We had the opportunity to sit down with the two leads of Possessor, the new sci-fi horror film from writer-director Brandon Cronenberg. Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott explained to us what drew them to delve into these dark roles and how they prepared to play essentially the same character—the plot follows a unique assassin and the puppet she possesses to do the actual killing.
Andrea Riseborough: Hi.
Christopher Abbott: Hi.
Staci Layne Wilson: Hello there, this question is for both of you, what were some of the processes that you went through either in rehearsal or on set for playing essentially the same character?
Andrea Riseborough: Many conversations.
Staci Layne Wilson: In pre-production or on set? I mean, did you try to get his mannerisms down or how did you accomplish that?
Andrea Riseborough: Well, it’s complex cause he’s actually playing Vos, even though Vos is inside of him playing him.
Staci Layne Wilson: It is complex.
Andrea Riseborough: So certainly when Vos is inside of him, she’s adopting his mannerisms. Outside of that when I’m using my own body, which is when the camera’s on me. No, I’m not adopting his mannerism. But furthering as it gets more, as we get further into the story, I think as with every possession Vos does in some way begin to assimilate… in some way begins to lean toward him mentally, physically, in every way.
Staci Layne Wilson: Right. Well, ever since there’s been technology or even medical advances like going back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein book, there’s always been someone who interprets the consequences in the darkest possible way as a friend and has here, what struck each of the most when you read Brandon’s script initially, this is for both of you.
Christopher Abbott: Well, what I appreciated is the economy that’s in the script and room to play as an actor, even between the lines there’s room in there to throw in some of your own colors with a part that on the page can seem… is almost seemingly stoic or introverted in a way because there’s this constant battle or duality of two people in one body. But in the same breath, it’s, I don’t know, even in a good way melodramatic and our theatrical in some way. So it was, I liked how it was both of those.
Andrea Riseborough: I really loved Brandon’s first film. That was probably the thing that drew me to working with him more than anything else. I just thought it was so quiet and unusual and dystopian and very beautiful. And so really that was the thing that really excited me about reading his script. And then when I got to the script, there’s so much when you’re working with Brandon, there’s so much that you can’t see. Cause so much that just couldn’t be expressed through the script. And so the script in itself was brilliant and fascinating. And then on top of that, I knew having seen his first film, that there was going to be this whole other world that we couldn’t even begin to imagine because essentially a film’s set in a version of the past.
Staci Layne Wilson: So there are a lot of beautiful visual layers and the music and everything that you can’t see in a script, but yes, I agree Antiviral was a wonderful movie. Now Andrea, one more question for you here. You got to work with Jennifer Jason Leigh in some pretty powerful scenes. Could you share with us what that was like to work with her and to just be in those really powerful moments?
Andrea Riseborough: It was really incredible. I mean, she’s just so extraordinarily talented and focused and generous, and it was a huge lesson.
Staci Layne Wilson: What did you learn?
Andrea Riseborough: Difficult to articulate, probably things that are very personal.
Staci Layne Wilson: Okay. Chris now, and you in turn get to work with Sean Bean in some pretty chilling and intense scenes. Could you tell us what that was like?
Christopher Abbott: Fantastic. I mean, I’m a fan of Sean’s and became even a bigger fan having worked with him. He’s got a presence as a human in the same way he does, I think on-screen as an actor. And so it’s always exciting to be face-to-face with that.
Staci Layne Wilson: Now this question is for both of you, how about Chris you answer first, what do you hope audiences will take away from the Possessor film experience?
Christopher Abbott: Well, I think the idea of a takeaway is associated with the idea of having some message or morality, some sort of moral that’s imbued after the fact. I mean, I think Possessor, it deals with a lot of themes that are poignant and very much can be interpreted as being of the time whether you’re talking about corporations or if it’s a little more heady, like the duality of one psyche and are you really who you are? I think those are all questions that you can walk away with after seeing it. But ultimately I do think it’s a piece of entertainment and a smart one at that. So I wouldn’t say anything other than just, I hope it’s just consumed and enjoyed and watched in all one sitting.
Andrea Riseborough: I have no want for anyone to take any one thing away, but I do think it’s an opportunity to perhaps just step into the violence of our time momentarily and then step out again.
Staci Layne Wilson: I watch a lot of movies as an entertainment reporter. So many, they kind of blend together after a while. But I did see Possessor at least a month ago and I still remember it vividly. So I think that’s a great thing that Brandon has done. Could you each tell me what it is about him as a director that you liked the most?
Andrea Riseborough: What a shame that they blend together, Staci, that’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard. Brandon is wonderful. I mean he’s a wonderful person. He’s extraordinarily bright and funny and unapologetically geeky, and it’s a constant conversation with him. You’re engaged in every way, emotionally and intellectually, and any questions you have for him, he’s normally thought about pretty much every angle of it, or he’s willing to go with you and explore and find an answer. He’s just very collaborative and very caring, very kind, and very caring.
Christopher Abbott: I mean, yeah. All that I agree with and yeah, just specificity, he knows exactly what he wants the movie to look like and feel like in the tone, and that’s reassuring for me as an actor and yeah. And on top of that, he’s a humble and very funny and good person. So it’s nice to be in his company when you’re doing a movie. Making a movie is hard. A lot of it is about the time spent with the people that you’re with, and so when you enjoy one’s company and you get to work on something really good on top of that, I think that’s the best combination.
Staci Layne Wilson: It is, and congratulations to both of you on your wonderful performances in this film, and thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.
Christopher Abbott: Thank you.
Andrea Riseborough: Thank you very much, Staci. Thanks for watching it.